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Reflective Fabric vs. Paint for Clothing - The Performance and Durability Comparison

reflective jacket

41 out of every 100,000. That’s how many flaggers die on the job each year from being struck by a vehicle or heavy construction equipment. These deaths can be prevented by wearing proper High Visibility Safety Apparel that meets OSHA’s Reflective material requirements. There are two main reflective materials that workers can use to stay safe while on the job:

  • Reflective fabric

  • Reflective fabric paint.

Reflective fabric or reflective paint, which one should you use to increase visibility during the day and night and why? While reflective fabric is designed to last longer, reflective fabric paint also makes for great high-visibility material.

In this guide, we walk you through what you need to know about reflective paints vs. reflective fabric and which is best for you.

What is Reflective Clothing Paint?

reflective paint

Reflective paints are made using special pigments and glass particles that reflect any light that falls on them. They are very easy to apply, and they dry fast. Just like fabric reflectors, reflective paint enhances your visibility in the dark.

However, since the paint is not permanent, its reflective effect wears off with time, so you may need to reapply it often.

The most common colors of reflective paints are white and silver, often found in spray cans.

Reflective paint offers the advantage of many colors, and its ability to be applied on any surface makes it a go-to item. It adheres to most fabrics and surfaces and can be customized using different application techniques.

What is Reflective Paint Used for?

reflective paint on human body and bikes

Reflective paint is used in many environments, such as:

Hunting: can be applied to hunting tools and gear such as guns and shoes to increase visibility in low light conditions.

Road Safety: Reflective paint is used to draw the attention of motorists in high-risk environments, e.g., by marking emergency lanes and road signs.

General safety: Can be used to enhance visibility at night by cyclists. Reflective paint is applied to the back of the helmet or bicycle to make the cyclist more visible to motorists.

Industrial environments: It can be used in warehouses to mark danger zones and in complex work sites to outline potential hazard areas. 

Silver reflective paint appears white in daylight and off-white in other lighting conditions, for example, under the reflection of a beam of light at night.

How Long Does Reflective Paint Last?

Reflective paint is temporary; hence will need to be reapplied often. While the paint itself is permanent, the reflective effect and pigment wear off depending on the surface they're applied. There are different kinds of reflective paints, from temporary water-based ones that can be used on the skin and clothes to more durable ones, such as spray cans that last longer and adhere to most surfaces. 

reflective paint on a board

What is Reflective Fabric for Clothing?

Reflective fabric is a fabric that has reflective material woven into it. It usually comes in fabric tapes and patches that can be sewn onto clothes, bags, and other accessories. The most common reflective fabric color is silver.

However, it can also be combined with other materials to form a combined performance material. Under daylight, it appears silver in color, while at night, it emits a white-silverish reflection when hit by a light source.

reflective garment

Reflective tape, also called retroreflective material, contains tiny glass bead particles that work by reflecting light from any light source around. The glass bead particles can be attached to different fabric materials, such as polyester, spandex, or T/C, depending on the type of apparel it will be attached to.

What is Reflective Fabric Used for?

The most common use of reflective fabric is the manufacture of High Visibility Safety Apparel. The retroreflective fabric is applied onto a bright fluorescent background to provide enough visibility in low-light conditions.

HVSAs such as safety vests, safety jackets, and safety pants can be grouped into different performance classes based on their amount of reflective material.

outdoort reflective clothing

Another common use of reflective fabrics is in the fashion industry. Reflective fabrics can be designed into different shapes and sizes to create custom attires and fashion pieces.

reflective coat in the dark

Manufacturing outdoor gear. Reflective fabric can also be used to make tents and backpacks. 

reflcetive fabric on bags and tents

Reflective Fabric VS Reflective Fabric Paint - The Comparison.

While reflective fabric and reflective fabric paint perform the same functions, they exhibit different properties, as explained above. So how do you decide which one to go for?

Reflective paint works best if you only need to be visible for a short amount of time. For example,  during an accident on the road in a poorly lit zone, you can use reflective paint to mark warning signs to keep drivers alert. 

Reflective paint is also fairly easy to apply and offers a variety of colors and options to choose from. You can customize your application by creating patterns and symbols that can be spotted from afar, thus communicating effectively. However, since it isn’t long-lasting, its reflective effect will likely wear off after a few days or months, making it great for short-term work.

Reflective fabric, on the other hand, lasts longer than reflective paint and is more suitable for more demanding jobs. For example, safety vests can be used for long periods (up to 6 months) before the reflective fabric wears off. 

Another great advantage of reflective fabric is it is washable and reusable. Unlike fabric paint that can be washed away, reflective fabric can withstand water, making it great for use in extreme weather conditions such as rain or snow. 

reflective apparel

Finally, how do these two reflective materials compare in terms of cost?

Reflective paint is cheaper than reflective fabric, so they're perfect if you need a budget-friendly way to stay visible in low light. However, while reflective fabrics are more costly, they offer better service in terms of durability, visibility, and overall value, especially regarding road safety.

Commonly Asked Questions

Here are some related searches and commonly asked questions.

What are the benefits of reflective fabric?

Reflective fabric offers enhanced visibility and long-lasting performance both during the day and at night. They’re also relatively easy to maintain.

Is reflective fabric waterproof?

Some reflective fabrics are designed to be waterproof, such as the one on this raincoat. This makes it possible to use even in the rain.

How do you take care of reflective clothes?

reflective security uniform

Reflective or hi-vis clothes need special care and maintenance to prolong their usage. Most manufacturers usually have care instructions on the clothing label that indicate how to clean and maintain reflective clothing.

How long does reflective clothing last?

Reflective clothing can last anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on the amount of usage. If you use it daily, the reflective effect of the clothing will usually wear out after 6 months. Make sure to follow OSHA standards when picking reflective clothing.

How long does reflective paint last?

The durability of reflective paint depends on the surface it is applied. Reflective spray paint can reflect light and stay visible on shiny, hard materials such as metal posts or signs for a few months.

In comparison, the same paint will only reflect light briefly when applied on absorbent materials such as bare concrete walls, raw timber, cotton attire, and grass.

reflective warning sign

Parting Shot

In conclusion, there isn't a major difference in function regarding reflective paint and fabric. However, you should select the material based on your desired results. If you just need a quick fix for an emergency situation, then reflective paints may work for you. However, for longer-term visibility needs, you can find various reflective clothing products on our page. We offer value for money. Visit our page for more information on safety vests, jackets, and hoodies made with reflective fabrics. Our shop offers a collection of HVSA products guaranteed to keep you and your workers safe while working in high-traffic environments. We also offer free delivery if you buy items worth $39 or more.

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